Jersey Boys – the musical featuring the songs of the Four Seasons – has been wowing West End audiences for years now and I finally caught up with it at the start of a UK tour at the Palace Theatre in Manchester (another regional theatre in need of enhancing, it must be said). This ‘jukebox’ musical proved to be an interesting diversion from many of its type, as Jersey Boys’ book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice tell the story of the Four Seasons themselves, using Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe’s songs. These generally fit the scene settings well and the show is initially rather slow (after a confusing opening sequence), as the group comes together under various different names and consists of different members, managers and producers during the early years.

Of course, it’s naive young teenager Frankie Valli (not ‘Valley’!) who emerges as the real talent of the group with his distinctive falsetto voice which created a different sound at the time. Matt Corner (the alternate Frankie) is very watchable throughout in a vocally demanding role, spot on in his pitching of both the sound and style of the character. However, lesser known songwriter Bob Gaudio has an equally significant role in the Four Seasons’ story and (understudy) Dan Krikler gives the character real credibility in this production. The turning point in Jersey Boys comes as the group achieve their first number one hit ‘Sherry’, which is performed in their distinctive red jackets, and Saturday night audience excitement reaches fever pitch. Three number ones in a row follow, with ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Walk Like A Man’ both receiving a raptuous reception.

But what of the story outside of the songs? The story developed from the writers interviewing the four to get their different viewpoints, and developing a storytelling technique with show director Des McAnuff whereby different members narrate the story direct to the audience from their own point of view at different times. A two tier set also features a large screen showing occasional footage from the era. This rather unsubtle structure allows little chance for characterisation, although it does permit the various aspects of the group’s colourful story to be told, including Stephen Webb’s edgy Tommy DeVito’s money and Mafia problems, the lost loves and families sacrificed and Valli’s own personal tragedy. But the overall feel is rather clunky, and one finds oneself waiting for the next big number to come along to maintain interest.

It’s these numbers that are the strength of Jersey Boys – and any show that features songs such as ‘Too Good To Be True’, ‘Stay’ and ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ has to have something going for it. In this UK tour, there are some nice supporting performances from Matt Gillett as camp manager and songwriter Bob Crewe and Damian Buhagiar’s young Joe Pesci too. With Frankie himself still performing around the world, and a Jersey  Boys film based on the stage show recently hitting cinemas, it seems that the Four Seasons’ phenomenon shows little sign of abating. And with this UK tour of Jersey Boys running concurrently with the West End show, now’s a good time for Four Seasons fans.